I still don’t understand Paul’s views on salvation (Bible tweets)

Previously in the series: Genesis and ExodusLeviticus through DeuteronomyJoshua through PsalmsProverbs through Song of SongsIsaiah through EzekielDaniel through MalachiMatthewMark, Luke and John.

My tweeting my way through the Bible project is almost finished. All that’s left are Hebrews, James, some forgeries few people care about, and Revelation. There are a lot of things I could talk about at this point, but now that I’m done with all the Pauline epistles (forged and otherwise), that’s strongly relevant to criticisms of Christianity re: Christian intolerance: who on earth did Paul think would be saved?

If you’re looking for prooftexts, two of the strongest ones are in 1st Corinthians. On the one hand, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 gives a list of types of people who won’t inherit God’s kingdom, which includes fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, drunkards, and maybe-depending-on-which-translators-you-believe homosexuals. On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

Oddly, there’s a lot of talk in Paul’s letters about believers being saved, which might make you think unbelievers won’t be, but I can’t find any statement to that effect in Paul’s undisputedly authentic epistles. 2nd Thessalonians 2:11-12 seems to say that unbelievers are damned, but the authenticity of 2nd Thessalonians is disputed. And 1st Corinthians 7:14 says an unbeliever can be “made holy” through their spouse!

There’s also a lot of stuff that seems an awful lot like it supports the doctrine of predestination, and the strange little verse that is Romans 11:32 “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” This makes me wonder if perhaps Paul combined predestination and universalism: God has predestined everyone to be disobedient for awhile, then repent eventually and be saved. The fornicators et al. won’t inherit God’s kingdom… but in the end there won’t be any of those! God has predestined all of them to repent of their fornication etc. eventually, so it’s no problem!

To be honest, while I find that hypothesis somewhat attractive, my guess is that it’s wrong. It seems like a contrived way to reconcile lines that are never explicitly said to fit together in that way. Whatever the case, it remains true that countless Christians over the centuries have managed to read Paul’s letters and come to the conclusion that all non-Christians are damned. And yes, that includes such luminaries as Saint Augustine.

That leads me to think that maybe the right answer to the question here is “Paul wasn’t very clear.” My experience in the philosophy world makes me rate this conclusion a lot higher. Name a famous philosopher, and you’ll find all kinds of arguments among historians of philosophy as to what he believed, and there are a few debates where I myself have an opinion but with a lot of them, I tend to think we should all step back and realize that having later become famous is no protection against having been an unclear writer–or even against not having had straight in your head what you were trying to say.

And THAT, in turn, makes me appreciate the strength of an argument that John W. Loftus made in an essay for his anthology The Christian Delusionthat if the Bible were really divinely inspired it would be a hell of a lot clearer–but it isn’t so it wasn’t.

Oh, by the way, Acts is similar to John in being SUPER antisemitic, same with 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. But some people think the latter was not written by Paul, but was a later insertion into the text.

  • Acts 2:14-17: Peter argues people at Pentacost weren’t drunk by citing a prophecy in Joel about the “last days.”
  • Acts 2:44-45: All Christians held all their property in common. They all sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to any in need.
  • Acts 3:23: Peter quotes command from Moses that “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.”
  • AA 4:12 On Jesus “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
  • Acts 4:32: Among early Christians, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
  • AA 4:32 “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”
  • Acts 4:35 “They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
  • Acts 5:1-10: A man and his wife die because they sold something and didn’t give the money to the apostles.
  • IDK why I didn’t see this before, but whenever the NT talks about how “your fathers” (addressing Jews) killed all the prophets…
  • …(e.g. Acts 7:52), that’s pretty anti-semitic. The assumption that people can be blamed for what their ancestors did.
  • Acts 9:5 “…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” King James say what?
  • Acts 9:18: The scales fall from Saul’s eyes. Another popular idiom that comes from the Bible.
  • Acts 10:34 “God is no respecter of persons.”
  • Acts 13:50: “The Jews incited the [people] of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.”
  • Acts 14:2 “The unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”
  • Acts 14:4 “The residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.”
  • This is maybe not so obvious on a casual reading, or without comparing it to, say, Galatians, but it’s pretty clear that the Book of Acts…
  • …was largely written as propaganda in a dispute within the early Christian community.
  • Acts 15:1: Some early Christians taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved.
  • Acts 15:29: But no, to be saved you just need to abstain from meat offered to idols, and from fornication.
  • Tweet ALL the Acts of the Apostles! #hyperboleandahalf#drunkonsoju
  • Some translations have Acts 17:22 describe the Greeks as “superstitious.” Others say “religious.” Guess they were the same in ancient Greek?
  • Acts 18:6: Paul gets mad at those darn Jews, says, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
  • Acts 18:12: “the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal.”
  • I’ve read the Bible twice through before… how did I not notice how antisemitic it was before now? Granted, I knew of a few things (like…
  • …”his blood be on us and our children!”) but… wow. Just wow.
  • When I say “Bible” there, I was thinking of the New Testament, but arguably you can find the seeds of antisemitism even in the Hebrew Bible.
  • After all, even in the Hebrew Bible, you often see God punishing ALL of the Jews for the sins of SOME Jews. So if SOME Jews killed Jesus…
  • Acts 20:35: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Another nice Bible idiom.
  • Those words are not attributed to Jesus in any Gospel, though.
  • Romans 1:20-27: Because people worshiped idols, “God gave them up to degrading passions.” Then they (both men and women) became gay.
  • Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
  • Romans 11:7 “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.”
  • Romans 11:8 “It is written ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’”
  • Romans 11:9 “And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them…
  • Romans 11:10 … let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent.”
  • Romans 11:23 “And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in.”
  • Romans 11:26 “All Israel will be saved.”
  • Romans 11:32 “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
  • Romans 13:1 “There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”
  • Romans 13:2 “Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
  • Romans 13:3: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Paul did not see the “Romans persecute Christians” thing coming.
  • Romans 14:23 “But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat… for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
  • 1 Cor 5:1-5: Man had sex with father’s wife, so hand him “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved.”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:3 “Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?”
  • 1 Cor 6:9-10 Wrongdoers, incl. “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites” and “drunkards” won’t inherit God’s kingdom
  • I should note that the words in 1 Cor 6:9-10 that the NRSV translates “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” are of uncertain meaning…
  • …I can’t find the article right now, but I’ve seen it convincingly argued that one means “effeminate,” and the other’s meaning is unknown.
  • 1 Corinthians 7:1 “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:2 “But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:9 “Is better to marry than to burn.”
  • 1 Cor 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:29 “The appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none”
  • 1 Corinthians 7:31 “For the present form of this world is passing away.”
  • 1 Cor 9:22 Paul says, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:14 “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?”
  • 1 Cor 12:8-10: Gifts of the spirit: healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:18 Paul says, ” I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” I had forgotten about that verse.
  • 1 Cor 14:34: “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.”
  • 1 Cor 14:35 If women want to know something, “let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this world” has blinded unbelievers. So that’s my problem!
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14: Don’t be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, because “what fellowship is there between light and darkness?”
  • 2 Corinthians is a bit on the boring side, even for a Pauline epistle.
  • Previous tweet may not be entirely fair, but I did definitely find the Pauline epistles much less readable than the Gospels when I first /1
  • started reading substantial chunks of the Bible in my early teens. The thing I’m not sure about is whether that was just because Paul’s /2
  • letters have much less to support the lovey dovey Christianity I grew up with, rather than their being objectively boring. /3
  • Galatians 1:8-9: If anyone, even an angel from heaven, preaches a different gospel from what Paul has preached, let him be accursed.
  • Galatians 1:15-19: Paul doesn’t seem to have talked to other apostles for three years after his conversion.
  • Galatians 2:11-14: Paul says, “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face” for supposed hypocrisy regarding eating with gentiles
  • Galatians 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”
  • Eph 1:4 God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” Another Calvinistic verse.
  • Ephesians 1:5 “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ…” Some versions say “predestined.”
  • Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been (pre)destined according to the purpose of him…”
  • 1 Colossians 3:18 “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”
  • Colossians 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
  • Col 3:22 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only… in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.”
  • 1 Thes 2:14-16: The Jews killed Jesus and the prophets. They displease God and oppose everyone. God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
  • 2 Thes 2:11-12: “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion… so that all who have not believed the truth… will be condemned.”
  • 2 Thes. 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” I’d heard (roughly) that saying before, somehow never made connection to the Bible.
  • 1 Tim 1:20 Paul turned a couple people “over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (Note: this letter not actually by Paul.)
  • 1 Tim 2:9: “Women should dress themselves modestly and decently… not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:12 “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
  • 1 Tim. 13-14: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
  • If I were a Christian, I’d be relieved to find out that 1st Tim. is a forgery. Related thought: someone should bring back Marcion’s canon.
  • 1 Tim 3:3: A bishop must be “not greedy of filthy lucre.” Another classic bit of English from KJV.
  • 1 Timothy 5, entire chapter: wow, interesting spin on the whole “take care of widows” thing.
  • 1 Tim 6 “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Another classic phrase from Bible. Somehow, tho, I thought it was attributed to Jesus.
  • Titus 1:12-13: “Paul” quotes Epimenides’s saying, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons,” then says that’s true.
  • Titus 2:9 “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back.”
How selfish are voters?
Avoiding divorce doesn’t make you a traditionalist
Harry Potter and the problem with genre deconstructions
I’ve read Draper’s paper, and I am puzzled
  • MNb

    Let’s ask William Ockham. “Paul wasn’t very clear.” There you are. It’s only a problem because of god.

  • http://deusdiapente.blogspot.com J. Quinton

    “When I say “Bible” there, I was thinking of the New Testament, but arguably you can find the seeds of antisemitism even in the Hebrew Bible.”

    The Hebrew Bible is obviously antisemitic to some extent, since Semitic includes Assyrians, Samaritans, and Babylonians ;-). Though not in the HB, the Jews were so antisemitic that they purposefully destroyed the Samaritan temple just because they could c. 110 BC.

  • MM

    Romans 8 drives me nuts. On a superficial level, it contains some easily digestible soundbites that Christians like to toss around. Calvinists look a little deeper and find exactly what they’re looking for, as it actually contains the word “predestined” (in the NIV). But seriously, it makes no goddamned sense if you look at it critically. I never really paid attention to the nuance, but this jumped out at me in your list:

    “29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

    So God only foreknows some people? And the people he foreknows get called, justified, and glorified. So what about faith? If you’re predestined, you don’t even have to do anything, God calls you and you just to wait patiently for that elevator to the sky, apparently. The previous verses that talk about hope seem to go along with this…if you’re predestined, you get some sort of stamp on your hand or a wristband, and then you basically just wait patiently until your number is called.

  • the anti_supernaturalist

    ”The practice of Christianity is nihilism.” — Nietzsche

    Xian ignorati from the beginning have exalted in reactive hatred. Their innermost affirmation is negation. It arises from self-loathing (incurable sinfulness) inverted into vast ego inflation (salvation snobbery).

    Nothing has changed in 2,000 years. The xian assault on a cultured intellect begins with Saul of Tarsus (pseudonym ‘Paul’ fl 50-65 CE).

    Paul creates the hellenistic christ-cult; he is a mentally ill (hysteric) zealot whose morally diseased god is himself writ large.

    While preaching a doctrine of resurrection — a long held minority view in judaism (Acts17:18 NIV), Saul was laughed at by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the Agora of Athens.

    He failed in Athens. He never forgot or forgave the “intellectuals”:

    Brothers [!], think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…1Cor1:26-28 NIV.

    That is, “we stink; but stinking is godly”.

    God chose “the things that are not — to nullify the things that are…” Paul injects pure xian nihilism into western culture, poisoning it down to today.

  • Greg G

    Oh, by the way, Acts is similar to John in being SUPER antisemitic, same with 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. But Bart Ehrman thinks the latter was not written by Paul, but was a later insertion into the text.

    Since when did Ehrman decide that Paul didn’t write that passage? He cites the passage in Misquoting Jesus and God’s Problem. He also takes Earl Doherty to task for saying it was an interpolation in <Did Jesus Exist? That last was an ad hominem saying that mythicists are alway citing interpolations for inconvenient verses. That moved <The Jesus Myth to next in line on my reading list and I only counted two times when Doherty mentioned interpolations. Of course it is an interpolation; verse 1:10 tells us that God’s wrath is yet to come but 16 verses later, verse 2:16 is telling us that wrath has already come.

    Acts 9:5 “…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” King James say what?

    Actually, that’s from Acts 26:14. You know how we often use cliches from Shakespeare without knowing the source? That phrase in Acts was probably just such a cliche in the Greek language as it goes back to Euripides Bacchae. So, we have Luke quoting Paul quoting Jesus quoting Dionysus, a Greek god. Are divine beings in the habit of quoting fictional accounts of other divine beings?

    • Chris Hallquist

      Oops, you’re right, that’s what I get for going on memory for these things. I do find the argument that Paul would never say something so antisemitic fairly compelling, though. Link to Ehrman taking Doherty to task over this?

      • ACN

        I think the task-taking is in Ehrman’s book, not on his blog, so a link may be tricky.

        A page number would be nice though :)

        • Chris Hallquist

          Found it.

          The passage in Did Jesus Exist? puzzled me at first–he makes a big deal about the lack of manuscript evidence for the Thessalonians passage being a later insertion. But in Misquoting Jesus, he argues 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a later insertion even though it’s found in all our manuscripts. There is the difference, though, that apparently the exact location of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is different in a few manuscripts, which I guess counts for something.

          • Greg G

            The Wikipedia article on 1 Thessalonians has a paragraph about verses 2:13-16 being an interpolation, providing several reasons that have nothing to do with Jesus Myth.

            As far as Jesus Myth goes, the only thing that happened to the Jews in the last two-thirds of the first century that the “wrath of God” could refer to is the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. If it refers to that, it has to be an interpolation. If Paul wrote it, then it doesn’t refer to any first century incident, so it wouldn’t really argue against Doherty’s theory. If something happened between 30 AD and 50 AD that Paul would be calling the wrath of God, surely someone else would have mentioned it.

            So whether it is an interpolation or not, it can’t be an argument for a historical Jesus.

            I found another one. In The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, page 316, Ehrman also cites 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 to show Paul’s opinion of the non-Christian Judeans.

          • Chris Hallquist

            In Does Jesus Exist, Ehrman argues that in Romans, Paul talks about God’s wrath having already come on people, but apparently in a less dramatic way than something like the destruction of a temple, so (he argues) the passage in Thessalonians should be read in a similar way.

          • Greg G

            This is the last one. In Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, page 134, Ehrman mentions that Paul “refers to Jesus being killed by his compatriots in Judea”, citing 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15.

            He has probably never contemplated that the passage to be an interpolation and he would have to do a lot of backtracking to change his mind now.

          • Greg G

            In Does Jesus Exist, Ehrman argues that in Romans, Paul talks about God’s wrath having already come on people, but apparently in a less dramatic way than something like the destruction of a temple, so (he argues) the passage in Thessalonians should be read in a similar way.

            Where does he say that? In Romans 1:18-20, Paul says that God’s wrath is being revealed but that it has been happening since the creation of the world. He then presents his evidence as God giving folks over to their sinful lusts — in other words. doing what they have always done.

            He continues his thought into chapter 2 where we find

            5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

            Since 1 Thessalonians is the earliest letter we have today and Romans is one of the latest, Paul seems to have maintained that God’s wrath was yet to come.

        • Greg G

          Here’s a link to Google books. It’s on page 253.

          Like Wells before him, Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians – which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, testual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)

  • hf

    Acts 15:29: But no, to be saved you just need to abstain from meat offered to idols, and from fornication.

    Amusingly, James-who-Jesus-disowns-in-the-Gospels explicitly calls this his own personal judgment. The letter they send out announcing this political compromise (according to the text) claims that the Holy Spirit agrees. But as far as I can tell this is James’ interpretation of Peter’s famous vision.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Some translations have Acts 17:22 describe the Greeks as “superstitious.” Others say “religious.” Guess they were the same in ancient Greek?

    No. “Superstitious” would be much the better translation there. The (crazy-ass long compound) word means literally “too-much-daimon-dreading”, where daimon means any immaterial spirit or supernatural being. Eusebes meant “pious, devout”.
    As far as trying to get a coherent message out of Paul, the big problem is that the letter collection was the subject of a massive tug-of-war in the Marcionite controversy of the mid-2nd century. Basically, the rantings of some ecstatic mystic were rehabilitated by the proto-orthodox in order to show that their author was in their camp and not the Marcionites. We know, for example, that the version of Romans in the Marcionite collection was considerably shorter than the canonical version we have. The supposedly genuine Paulines have been interpolated and redacted to say things the originals simply didn’t, but we don’t know exactly how. They’re a contradictory mess as a result.

    • Greg G

      Much of the contradictory stuff comes from Paul making it up as he went along. He preached freedom to the Jews that were accustomed to living under the Law. Then he had to deal with the Corinthians who never lived under the Law and had to reel them back in. He preached that the end was near, one should serve the Lord and shouldn’t marry and raiise a family. But then he had to come up with an explanation why pchurch members were dying off.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’ve heard things like this before, but source?

      My impression was that the mainstream view, even among secular scholars like Ehrman, is that the versions of Paul’s letters we have a more or less the originals. Ehrman mentions, in his introduction to the New Testament, that Marcion’s version of Luke may have represented a legitimate, independent textual tradition (not just Marcion cutting the parts he didn’t like), but doesn’t say anything similar about Marcion’s edition of Paul’s letters. In fact, it’s not even clear to me whether Marcion’s version of Paul (as opposed to his version of Luke) differed from the canonical versions.

  • Laurence

    The head of the philosophy department here at Kent State has done some interesting research on the Pauline epistles, specifically on the passages that are anti-gay and anti-woman. He argues that in those passages, Paul is actually quoting someone and responding to the quote in the negative. I know that he is publishing a book based on his research called Misquoting Paul, but I have no idea when it is going to be released.

    • eric

      It is difficult to see how that would make them significantly better. Very analogous to how the bible treats slavery, hypothesizing that Paul was arguing against some really bad form of harmful conduct runs up against the question of why he didn’t just outright repudiate the harmful conduct in total.
      Take 1 Cor 14:3435 as an example. Okay, so maybe Paul is responding to someone who suggested even worse treatment of uppity women. Maybe he’s saying you should answer their questions when you get home instead of beating them and not answering their questions at all. But that still fails to explain why Paul didn’t just say women have the same rights to speak in church as men.

  • acts26apologetics

    guys watch this , u gonna know how paul converted